Friday, March 4, 2022

Bert Williams 100 Years -- March 4, 2022

Chicago Whip, 11-March-1922

Bahamian-American comedian Bert Williams died 100 years ago today, on 04-March-1922. Williams broke racial barriers, appearing in mainstream vaudeville and the Ziegfeld Follies. He appeared in about three movies. One was apparently not completed. 


Whole Nation Mourns As
Curtain Rings Down On
Premier Entertainer

NEW YORK CITY, March 8. -- More than 7,000 persons jammed the streets leading to the church at Bert Williams’ funeral here Tuesday. Details of mounted policemen patrolled the streets to keep the crowds back.

NEW YORK CITY. March 11 -- Bert Williams, considered by many critics the foremost American comedian of all times, died at his home here Saturday night of pneumonia. He was 52 years of age.

He collapsed on the stage at Detroit Monday night in the midst of the second performance of "Under the Bamboo Tree," in which he was starring. He had been in ill health for more than a year, and shortly before his collapse was under the constant attendance of physicians, who remained with him at all times, even accompanying him to and from the theatre, and sleeping in adjoining rooms with him.

Immediately after his collapse in Detroit he was taken to New York City, where it was hoped a blood transfusion would restore his health. A relapse occurred Saturday from which he was unable to recover.

Funeral services were held Tuesday afternoon at St. Phillip's Church, with a second ceremony to be held Wednesday afternoon under auspices of St. Cecile Lodge of Masons. He was a member of Haverly Lodge, of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Scores of telephone and telegraph messages were received by his widow at their home, 135th Street and Lenox Avenue. All day Sunday and Monday Bert's admirers, both on the stage and off thronged the house and requested the opportunity personally to pay their respects to the memory of the great entertainer.

Went on Nerve

During his recent engagement at the Studebaker Theatre in Chicago Wiliams is said to have gone through his ' performances on sheer nerve, expecting a collapse at any moment, although the audience was unaware oi the fact.

Born in West Indies

Williams was born in Nassau, British West Indies and came to this country when two years of age. He worked at odd jobs in New York, and after serving an enlistment in the army, went on the stage.

He began his stage career as a banjo player with a minstrel show. He then joined with George Walker in a variety show and made a name along the Pacific Coast.

Their first hit was at Jack Halahan's Midway Theatre in San Francisco. From variety the team went to "three a-day" in vaudeville. Success finally crowned their efforts in "Dahomey," and Williams & Walker became an American institution.

One of Williams' greatest shocks was the death of his partner, George Walker. He threatened to leave the stage at Walker s death, but was persuaded by his friends to remain. Williams & Walker appeared both in this country and abroad at private entertainments and at special showings before royalty and nobility.

Scored with Follies

Bert Williams reached the zenith of his career with the Ziegfeld Follies, being even a greater drawing card than Ziegteld's far-famed. shapely limbed chorus girls. Declining health compelled him to forsake the "Follies" for a production which taxed his strength less.

No figure on the American stage was impersonated more often than was Bert Williams. Every vaudeville impersonator of stage celebrities included Bert Williams in his repertoire. His pantomime of "the poker game" is familiar to thousands of theatre-goers who never even saw Bert.

He created a comedy method of his own, which has been imitated universally. The slow, shambling gait, the balanced intonation, the clear diction and the skillful pauses, are familiar to theatre-goers.

When the famous comedian broke down in Detroit, the play. "Under the Bamboo Tree," in which he was starring was immediately disbanded. No attempt was ever made to find an understudy for him. It is said that Shelton Brooks, noticing his failing health, applied for the position.

He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Lottie Williams, formerly of Chicago.

His best-known songs were "Constantly," "I Never Done Nothing to Nobody," "Woodman, Spare That Tree," "Nothing From Nothing Leaves Me," "When the Moonshine Shines Upon the Moonshine," "Save a Little Dram for Me," and "Puppy Dog."

Washington Herald, 11-May-1913

Bert Williams is listed last among the performers in the Ziegfeld Follies. Ching Ling Foo (Chee Ling Qua) was a Chinese-born magician who toured the United States in vaudeville and the Follies. Their fellow performers in this edition of the Follies included Australian Leon Errol, who later starred in short films and B features for RKO, Elizabeth (not Fanny) Brice. Williams and Errol performed as a team, and Errol was the only white pallbearer at Williams' funeral.

Moving Picture World, 19-August-1916

"America's Greatest Comedian."

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